No one left behind: Stories of inclusion for International Day of Cooperatives

No one left behind: Stories of inclusion for International Day of Cooperatives

Cooperatives embody the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. These values ensure that people from all walks of life have an opportunity to improve their lives by working together — that no one is left behind.

According to the International Cooperative Alliance, inclusion not only captures the people-focused nature of cooperative enterprises, but also echoes the cooperative principles of voluntary and open membership, democratic member control and member economic participation. Co-ops provide a space where all people, regardless of race, gender, culture, social background or economic circumstance, can meet their needs and build better communities.

While other organizations were “discovering” inclusion, cooperatives have quietly been making it happen for decades. And nowhere more dramatically than in the sphere of international development, frequently funded by the USAID-funded Cooperative Development Program, which promotes public-private partnerships organizing cooperatives in the developing world.

OCDC members’ cooperative development projects reach those who are often the most marginalized in their societies, from people living with HIV-AIDS to poor, smallholder farmers to women and youth. These projects offer sustainable opportunities for them to pull themselves out of poverty, while improving food security, introducing them to the principles of democracy and boost economic development.

Share stories of inclusion
On July 1, nations around the world will celebrate the International Day of Cooperatives, with its 2017 theme of “Cooperatives ensure that no one is left behind.” The U.S. Overseas Cooperative Development Council (OCDC) and its members invite you to join in.

Use the stories in our Inclusive International Co-op Development Toolkit to spread the word to your members, readers, users, audiences, colleagues – not just on July 1 but in the months to come. They’re “plug-and-play” or you can tailor them to your audiences.

Kenya: Dairy co-op fosters women’s economic independence
Among the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro, cultural norms have long dictated that men earn their living as coffee farmers, while women are dairy farmers. But many independent smallholder dairies find it difficult to generate a viable income. So in 1997, a group of 98 women joined forces to form the Marukeni Women’s Cooperative.

That was the first step, but the women had a lot to learn about animal husbandry, nutrition, milk handling and hygiene, as well as general business and financial management. Plus, the co-op lacked basic cooling equipment so the women could milk their cows twice a day.

With assistance from Land O’Lakes International Development-managed programs, including the Tanzania Dairy Development Program, the women were able to implement good business practices, grow the cooperative to more than 300 members, boost collection volumes from under 250 to over 750 liters a day, and greatly expand members’ profits.

Not only has the Marukeni co-op allowed these women to achieve economic independence, but it also has played a key role in improving gender parity and women’s leadership roles in the community. Read more…

Mexico: Taking financial services to the field
In Mexico, the World Council of Credit Unions introduced smartphone technology at two rural credit unions in 2008 to improve service delivery through a field officer model called Semilla Cooperativa. In this model, designated credit union staff regularly travel to rural communities to provide the credit union’s services in an informal group setting. Field officers use personal digital assistants (PDAs) or smartphones to remotely create or access member accounts.

Today, 54 credit unions with 235 points of service in 22 Mexican states have implemented Semilla Cooperativa through World Council’s rural credit union outreach program, funded by the Mexican government. In addition to using smartphones, the credit unions installed point-of-service devices at local member businesses and ATMs at rural branches to further expand remote access to payment, transaction and financial services.

The program helped open 22 additional branch offices and brought financial services to more than 250,000 marginalized people in three years, 9% from indigenous populations. Credit union outreach far surpassed the program’s target 15% market penetration. Read more…

Rwanda: Building a vibrant business with no fear
Witinya, which means “have no fear” in Kinyarwanda, was created in 2005 by a group of neighbors infected with and affected by HIV and AIDS who came together to form an association with the purpose of social support and encouraging positive living. By 2012, the 72 members — 42 of them living with HIV — were part of a thriving and self-sustaining cooperative in Rwanda’s Bugesera district.

Through Global Communities’ EMIRGE Program, the Witinya received training in business planning, value chains, agriculture technical practice and market development, in addition to cooperative management training.

The cooperative started with chili pepper production and used its profits to invest in pineapple production on about 7.5 acres. The members since have increased their land holdings, diversified into goats and combined their harvest with another local co-op to reach more markets. Witinya also provides additional services to its members, including markets for their products, employment during the harvesting period and bulk purchasing of inputs. Read more…

Uganda: ‘Learn, engage, build’ empowers youth in ag
In northern Uganda, NCBA CLUSA is facilitating sustainable economic opportunities and commercial enterprises for at-risk youth. Youth Empowerment Through Agriculture (YETA) adopts NCBA CLUSA’s “Learn, Engage, Build” model to create long-term engagement by integrating numeracy, literacy and life skills with technical expertise in agriculture, business, entrepreneurship and management.

YETA establishes youth associations (YAs), bolsters the well-being and confidence of YA members through core skills, increases member access to financial services and instills the technical and entrepreneurial proficiency critical to launching a business.

Youth who participate in the program are learning concepts they can relate to everyday life, how to apply those concepts under a mentor’s guidance, and receive support and encouragement to experiment on their own. Ultimately the program aims to bring more youth into NCBA CLUSA’s extensive network of cooperatives and associations to pursue their dreams and benefit their rural communities. Read more…

Other tools

OCDC news release
Link to International Day of Cooperatives